Online balance crucial

Updated: 2012-12-25 07:50

(China Daily)

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As national legislators deliberate on a decision to regulate the conduct of information service providers and Internet users, expectations are high that new rules will bring better protection of netizens' rights and interests.

Abuse of personal information has gone to such an extent that few of us have not received unsolicited phone calls, text messages and e-mails trying to sell to us everything from fake receipts to apartments, sex toys and club membership.

It was so because the private information we surrendered to various service providers has been released, or simply sold, to unknown third parties. There are rules prohibiting such practice, but who cares if they don't bite.

The free trade and abuse of citizens' personal information, involving both employees of various public institutions and illicit profit-seekers, have become too rampant to be tolerable. The "campaigns" against personal information leak, on the other hand, are evidence that little serious thought has been given to the matter, since they are almost always abortive.

It would be great if the lawmakers can prevent us from being harassed by the calls and messages that pester us each and everyday. For the elimination of such nuisances alone, many would unreservedly support a legislative decision that promises harsher penalties for abusers. The current stipulations on protecting personal information, scattered in various laws and decrees, are too general and principled to be useful.

But lawmakers have a crucial balance to strike here: The balance between a citizen's right to privacy and freedom of speech.

Given the peculiar Chinese context, the Internet has served as an essential platform for citizens to participate in public affairs. Thanks to Internet, the otherwise voiceless can have their voices heard.

We strongly believe in the benefits the Internet has brought about. They do tremendous good to the health of our society. That micro blogs, as citizens' new-found weapon against corruption, have made some in public office shudder inspires high hopes for effective public oversight.

The central authorities have on many occasions emphasized the significance of the public's supervisory role in the fight against corruption. They should do more to broaden the channels for public participation.

We hope the national legislature's decision is a well-thought-out one that protects personal information while not compromising people's right to express themselves.

(China Daily 12/25/2012 page10)